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‘Teaching digital literacy to adults is difficult. They are unwilling’

ICMC panelists talk about media and information literacy

SAMAA | - Posted: Feb 12, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
SAMAA |
Posted: Feb 12, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
‘Teaching digital literacy to adults is difficult. They are unwilling’

Photo: Rahim Sajwani

Teaching digital literacy to adults is a challenge. More so as compared to teaching children. Adults are unwilling and are more likely to share fake news without checking sources.

This comes from experts who spoke on Wednesday about digital literacy, teaching methodologies and their success at the second International Conference on Media and Conflict at Islamabad’s Jinnah Convention Centre.

The conference has been organised by the government through its Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as part of its efforts to bring together international and local academics, journalists, young people, university students to talk about and create a body of knowledge about success stories fighting conflict and hate online.

Speaking about the role of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in teaching digital literacy, Ricardo de Pinto, a programme specialist for the UN agency, said that Unesco can only set a common understanding of benchmarks then it is up to each country and society to take as models and apply it in the national context.

He explained the historical background of the term digital literacy and said Unesco is ready to help Pakistan.

Dr Ayesha Ali, an assistant professor in the department of economics of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, spoke about a study that detailed countering misinformation on social media through educational interventions.

Dr Ali’s current research is about understanding and countering misinformation on social media, competition and television news media quality to improve the delivery of services in the electricity sector.

She said not much information was available in this regard on developing countries.

Education is a power that can change this nation and the world, said Dr Muhammad Zaheer Asghar, a research fellow at the Doctoral School of ICT Education (e-learning), University of Catalonia in Spain.

Neoliberals always supported dictators who allowed them to intervene in our education system, he said, adding that madrassas are good because it is a school, but manipulating the education in them is bad.

He said our education system is not developing critical thinking. Politics, media and society are not segregated from education.

The failure of our curriculum is that it is not reflective of our needs. There are three streams of education: for the elite, middle class and then madrassas.

Such a system cannot produce democratic thinkers, he said, criticising the low budgetary allocation for education.

We need an education emergency, he believed.

Gianfranco Polizzi, a research scholar at the LSE, said that the biggest question we are grappling with is how to make sure children and adults have the information they “need”.

How does one reach adults? Children are more easily reached in schools. This is not the case with adults. It makes teaching digital literacy hard.

Polizzi , too, emphasised on the need for critical thinking.  

There needs to be more emphasis on giving students options in the classroom to engage with digital technologies and learn how to evaluate content online.

Polizzi spoke about how we can reach our goals for media literacy by revising the curriculum and training teachers. But more challenging, Polizzi said, is how we can make sure adults can also learn.

Reaching everyone is a major issue. Emphasis was placed on training media educators, such as media studies teachers, education practitioners, librarians.

Jennie King, a senior policy manager at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue where she is developing research and programmes to combat hate, extremism and polarisation worldwide, said the education sector is always one or three steps behind when it comes to digital skills, literacy and citizenship.

It takes a long time to filter [these concepts] into education systems. By the time they respond, the academic system has already moved on to the next big body of work.

Speaking about Pakistan, she said there is very little provision in the public education sectors for basic digital skills and literacy work. The need is to go one step further, which can be a burden and intimidating. It needs a lot of building blocks.

Whatever age you are, if you are coming to the web, you start off with basic digital skills. This might be using Microsoft word or excel or understanding how to do a search on Google or create a Twitter account. ,

“Get a sense of how to manipulate, leverage platforms to get them to work for you,” she said.

She said citizenship is a big gulf. What does it mean to be a citizen in the online space? It sounds like an easy question, but is poorly thought about in the public sphere.

There are clearly defined examples of being an offline citizen. There is a framework of behaviour of what it means to be a citizen offline, which includes acts such as voting, picking up trash, etc. But when it comes to online citizenship, there are no norms or standards.

Although millennials and Gen Z get the blame for irresponsible internet use, all research shows that people in the older age demographic are more likely to share stories unthinkingly and less likely to challenge the sources they read, she said.

Sharing the results of a survey in America, she said older people are seven times more likely to share a fake news story on Facebook.

She said we need to think creatively about the points of entry where it is easy to capture adults such as, sports centres, unions and community centres.

“Adults are difficult to reach and unwilling to be taught things,” she said.

Polizzi said the focus needs to be on children. They are most vulnerable and represent future generations. But it doesn’t mean we don’t need to focus on adults. “Democracy relies on well informed citizenry. Adults need to be well informed. Parents and kids need to learn to share experiences. Research shows that the best parental teaching is having a conversation with your child,” said Polizzi.

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